How did you get involved in Garden Retail Success?
I have a strong connection with New Zealand, where the Garden Retail Success programme was started five years ago by Bill Brett. Since then it has been rolled out in Australia and Ireland. I had discussions in early 2012 about developing the project in the UK and also talked to Guy Moreton at MorePeople, whom we are teaming up with to run Making it Happen in the UK. It is very exciting. I love helping people develop. Using the experience I have of best practice in the programme, I am sure it will be of great benefit to small and medium-sized garden centres and nurseries.
How does Garden Retail Success work?
Basically, I keep the primary focus on business development. The bottom line is very much using the programme to develop the business in the most profitable way. The key thing is to have an overview of the centre and do an audit with the centre owner or managing director. We then sit down and find out where they want to go and draft a business plan — not like at the bank, but where the business wants to be and how it defines itself and will develop. We do it in 12 month chunks. We first make a list of things that we can do quickly to make things better.
During that period I'm available by email and phone to discuss what they're doing and to monitor key performance indicators to see if the changes are having an impact. People often feel on their own and don't have anyone to discuss things with, so this gives them someone to talk to.
We also provide a full set of garden centre manuals on business planning, financial management, premises development, marketing, merchandising and operations management — including customer service, human resources, product information and marketing. We can have a number of centres work together in small groups on topics such as signage or gross margins — anything to help them run their businesses — to develop joint solutions.
How do you quantify success in this business?
Some Irish garden centres have gone from basic to five star. Some 90 per cent of people on the programme show significant growth and, more importantly, the majority outperform the market.
How many people are on the programme?
Seventy worldwide. In the UK we hope to start with a dozen, which would be great, and then, if we had 24, that would be marvellous and so on. I just want to make a difference in the marketplace, which is a marketplace I'm passionate about. Many will need the strength to get over the recession and be stronger for when the good times come. A lot of smaller garden centres and nurseries would appreciate that help.
How do you think last year went for garden centres?
It was a difficult one. Some people's sales were level with the previous year because perhaps they put in a restaurant or made a major change to their business. Others were happy to be just 15 per cent down. But the last quarter helped — December and Christmas sales were quite exciting. That gives people cash to go into January and hope for the spring. This year can't be as bad as last year. Porters and Whiteleys have gone, so there's been a bit of damage out there. We used to buy from Porters when I ran Warbreck Garden Centre and I don't like to see family businesses go like that.
When did you leave Warbreck Garden Centre?
I sold up in May 2009. My Dad started Warbreck in the early 1970s and I joined after university.
I didn't mean to stay but I was there for more than 30 years. I love the industry. At that point, with my son being only 17 when I sold, it was not sensible to wait until he was trained. The place needed a flush of energy that many garden centres get when they are taken over by the second generation. But sometimes the older generation gets to the point where they want to do something different.
What other projects are you working on?
A With Kiwiosity, our Woodham garden centre display tables and trolleys from New Zealand are ticking over. I'd also like to launch Zeosoft, an eco hand-cleaning product, into garden centres. I killed off bringing over barbecues two years ago — the pricing wasn't right.